C-Diplo - Saint or Sinner?
by Toby Harris
I don’t think it is right for
me to say what I consider the best Diplomacy scoring system because, for
starters, I am biased. Let’s be honest – we all
C-Diplo was invented by the
French hobby. I am not sure precisely when but my first encounter with it was at
EuroDipCon 1997 in Namur, Belgium. The event itself was rather special, set in
the Citadel on the top of a massive hill. It has a really splendid medi-evil
look about it, overlooking the town which plays host to some splendid shops,
cafes, markets, bars, casinos, you name it.
The way C-Diplo works is to
award points at the end of the game as follows :
1 point for playing : Total 7
1 point per s.c. : Total 34 points
38 bonus points for the table-topper : Total
14 bonus points for 2nd place : Total
7 bonus points for 3rd place : Total
Grand total : 100 points.
Yeah, 100 points … hence the
name “C” Diplo. Kinda catchy ‘n’ cool.
For the finer points, an 18+
scores 100 points (with everyone else scoring zero) and tied places share the
bonus points appropriately. Ie 4 players sharing 2nd place would each
gain one quarter of the 14 + 7 points. Simple as that.
What I would like to explain is
why this system was invented and some of the “good” that it achieves. The
“bad” is pretty clear for all to see too !
First and foremost, the system
is simple. In fact, as simple as it can possibly get – all games have a score
value of 100, and the scores are easy to add up. That makes life easier for the
tournament director; the folk who, let’s face it, do all the work at
face-to-face tournaments. If they are doing all the work, it is hardly fair that
the players go whingeing at them for wanting an easy life !
Secondly, the system is
“pure”. It works on the concept of the following hierarchies :
An outright win is better than
Topping the table is better than …
Jointly topping the table is better than …
Coming 2nd is better than….
Jointly coming 2nd etc ….
The point ranges are as follows:
Outright win :
Topping table : 45 points minimum –
56 points maximum
Equally topping table (2 players): 28 points minimum – 39 points maximum
Coming second : 19 points minimum – 31
It makes the goal of the game
very simple : to get the most points, all you need do is make sure that you have
more centres than the other players at the end of the game. Thus, topping your
board with just 6 centres (to everyone else’s 5 maximum) gets you 45 points,
whilst a 17/17 split gets you 39 points.
Some players (typically U.K.
& U.S.) will dispute this as wrong. “17 centres is much better than 6, no
matter what the system” (hence the reduction of the 1st place bonus
to 28 for the worldmasters tournament). Indeed, yes, it is harsh, but the point
remains – with a 17/17 split you have not topped your board !
So what C-Diplo does, very
clearly (and purely, like it or not) is to make the goal very blatant and
obvious for all to see from the very start. None of this contemplating whether
your 16 centres (behind a 17) will score more points than someone else’s
table-topping 7. It says loudly and clearly : table-toppers get the points,
Ok, so that’s the system, but
how does it work (and not work, for that matter) ?
French tournaments tend to be at
either universities or the city hall games fair. In both cases, non-Dippers are
in ample supply and new recruits on tap. What do new recruits want from a game ?
Well, I will offer you the French game to the American and see what you think :
The french play to 1907 and the
game is over within 3½ hours.
The Americans play to, what,
1915+ and games last for 8+ hours (so I am told). The UK usually plays to 1911
or 1912 and games will gfenerally last for 8 hours, allowing an hour for that
“lunchtime beer” (“c’mon, pal, let me buy you a beer”, *cue evil
So, firstly, you have a shorter
game – that is attractive to the newbie (or most newbies anyway). But where C-Diplo
comes in is as follows :
A shark allies with a newbie.
Game end comes around and you end the game with 11 centres, the newbie 10. You
get 50 points, the newbie gets 25.
“Ah, just one centre, I nearly
won !”, cries the newbie with excitement. “Yes”, says the master, “you
almost won it – you played really well, congratulations. Maybe next time
you’ll do it”.
And so, the newbie is hooked –
with that “almost, but not quite” hook, line and sinker.
Meanwhile, the shark knows all
along that he doesn’t need to stab his ally – just get one more centre !
It’s enough to get him on that final top table, from where the tournament
winner will emerge (you typically need, from 3 or 4 preliminary rounds, a table
topper and a 2nd, or sometimes two table toppers).
Compare that to the UK-style
systems which reward a “closeness to the win”. Points go up in a non-linear
scale (centres squared, kind of thing) and every centre is worth heaps more
points than the last one. So, one 17 is worth more than a 9 and an 8. Much more.
And in this case, the ally has to be stabbed and you gotto grab their centres.
The newbies get wiped and think “bah, I’m not playing that again !”
So the first thing that struck
me about C-Diplo was not just the simplicity but also the FACT that the French
have more players than other European Dip nationalities. Unlike France and
Sweden, they had no major postal hobby gelling them together, and yet they had
more players on the f.t.f. scene. Why ? Because on the whole, the games were
more “user-friendly” to the new guy. More chance of survival and a shorter
game. More players survive 1907-finish C-Diplo games than any other system I
And then we get to the
tournaments which, say, don’t use C-Diplo, don’t have a top board and just
say “best 2 results count”. How many times does the guy in 2nd or
3rd at the end of the tournament think “bah – the winner landed a
really easy board !”
Yeah, we see that a lot – and
all too often tournaments are decided by the boards the players land on.
We only have to see round one of
the Worldmasters tournament to see that some players are having an easier ride
than others. So, what a top table does (and, thank heavens, the Worlmasters has
one !) is to say “ok, you guys are the top seven players so far … now go and
fight it out amongst yourselves so that the true winner will have beaten the
other 6 top players”. This produces no such bad feeling about whether or not
the eventual winner was worthy !
And how does C-Diplo come into
all this ? Well, other systems may reward a closeness to the win. Some guy lands
an easy board and gets a 17. 56 points. Meanwhile, another guy lands a rough
board, but tops it with 6. 45 points. Not a lot between the scores because the
fact remains that both players had one thing in common – they played
“better” (or, rather, got more centres than) the other 6 players in their
To my min, what the C-Diplo /
Top Table combo does is perfect the structure of preventing easy tournament wins
without landing easy boards.
But, hey, any scoring system
that respects a top table (ie, play X rounds and lump the best 7 results into a
final, which must produce the winner) gets full marks in my book. You simply
cannot award a player with the trophy for getting a lucky draw allocation
against 6 newbies, whilst the rest of the tournament are sweating blood against
fellow sharks. That method is nothing short of pants … total and utter pants!
Ok, what are the downsides of C-Diplo
? At EuroDipCon 1998, the UK was introduced to C-Diplo for the first time. A few
complained that “they were winning their board and then in the last season
some numpty threw away some of his centres so that someone else topped the
board. It is crazy, it is stupid – how can this be allowed ? How come I can
lose most of my points in one turn just because of some total and utter wanker
Indeed, how can that happen ?
Well, first and foremost, I can
tell you without exception that the vast majority of such whingers where not
exactly tournament winners themselves. They were primarily the guys who might
normally finish in the 10th – 30th positions of a
tournament. Not that this really matters, but the complaints didn’t come from
the main players. Why ? Simply because the “better” players tend to adopt
the attitude “ok, that’s the system, I need to adapt my strategy top it and
play to it”. One such player was Phil Day, winner of World Dip Con 1. Phil’s
results in this tournament (his first encounter with C-Diplo) were quite
remarkable. In round 1, he was 5th on the board, after being stabbed
left, right and centre in some cut-throat game-balancing affair. The table
topper in that game (Steve Jones) had one more centre than the second placed
guys (myself, Ivan woodward and some other guy) … who all had the same s.c.
count. Four players within one centre of each other, and Phil just two centres
short of the pack. C-Diplo in pure form, huh ?
Phil scratched his head a little
and said something to the tune of “I can see I’m going to have to get the
hang of this”. Round 2, he got the bonus points for 3rd place in
his game, round 3 he was second and round 4 he topped the board.
Not that this says everything
but it is indicative of a quality player learning a new system and playing to
it. But, at the end of it all, Phil also said he preferred other systems. Fair
So, the guys who were winning
and had centres chucked by other guys to lose them the game … why ? Why would
someone chuck centres away to stop you winning ? Er, let me see now, could it
possibly be because you have been “less diplomatic” than the guy who
eventually topped the board ? I put this to one of the whingers and the response
was “no, I was perfectly diplomatic. It was just that this total wanker went
and chucked the game for no reason !! It makes the game a lottery !! He was a
total and utter pratt and I’m never going to play that guy again !!!”
Hmm, that’s diplomacy for you
and I rest my case.
Fact is, players do not throw
games if they think you have played well and have been the most diplomatic on
the board. And that brings me back to the point that the biggest whinges came
from those less likely to ever actually win a tournament.
Moving on, one of the things
that I also praise C-Diplo for is alliance play.
Generally speaking, there is
nothing worse than being in a game where two players ally to the end, wipe the
board and you are on the receiving end of it. With C-Diplo (and I speak
generally here, there are many exceptions !), as soon as an alliance pulls
ahead, the others gang up on them, split them and the game balances out once
again. An unusual game, maybe, but one where it is difficult to race ahead with.
To finish with, let me give you
On the one hand C-Diplo
generally produces games where players maintain the balance of power. One guy
sneaks ahead, others bring him back to size. In so doing, another guy sneaks
ahead, and the others bring him back to size. A third players sneaks ahead as a
result of this, and again he is brought back down to size. Eventually, after an
agreed game limit (19XX), the game ends and the player with the most centres
claims the lion’s share of the points. Often it is the guy who started off the
worst and was attacked in 1901 or 1902!
Now I will quote you (not word
for word, just from memory) the speech Allan Calhammer gave at World Dip Con 1 :
“In the early play-testing games, we found that as soon as a player sneaked
ahead, the others would gang up against him. In turn, everyone would have their
moment of glory in leading the game.”
Am I missing something here or
should the ideal system (which most accurately simulates the game’s
inventor’s ideals) not encourage a style where everyone jumps on the leader ?
One simple method is to reward the eventual board leader with all the gold, and
the others with a few crumbs. Hence a final reason I consider C-Diplo to be
“as good as any”, but it doesn’t mean I’ll not enjoy playing any system.
Reprinted from The Freaky Fungus Online